Can your diet help with hormone balancing?
Hormones that are out of balance may cause health problems but we can bring balance back with what we eat. There are foods that can help keep hormones balanced and your body functioning properly and there are foods that will keep you out of balance.
Hormonal health is probably not your first thought when deciding what to eat, but by paying a little attention you can have a positive effect on balancing hormones to keep your body functioning well.
Hormones play a very important role in your body. They are chemical messengers that are part of the endocrine system and help with growth and development, metabolism and digestion, fertility, stress, mood and more.
When hormones get out of balance, either overproduction or underproduction, it can lead to issues such as diabetes, weight loss or gain, fertility, and menstrual cycle challenges among other problems.
How diet affects hormones
What you eat affects the production of hormones. Your hormones need healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, as well as fibre from fruits and vegetables and proteins. Pesticides, alcohol and artificial sweeteners can negatively impact your hormones.
You need enough calories too. Women’s bodies are very sensitive to scarcity. If your body doesn’t think it’s getting enough, it reduces the production of sex hormones. Your body doesn’t know the difference between war or famine or a weight-loss diet.
Your menstrual cycle will give you signs that your hormones are out of balance. Fertility issues, period problems such as PMS, heavy periods and migraines all can be signs that hormones are out of balance. Sudden weight fluctuations or changes in energy levels could also signal a hormonal imbalance.
Eating for hormone balance
Fruits and vegetables
It’s best to eat as many organic fruits and vegetables as possible. Pesticides act as hormone disruptors, meaning they either mimic hormones in your body or affect the actions of your own hormones. Studies have shown that even one serving of fruit or vegetables with high pesticide residue (such as strawberries) has a negative impact on fertility. By eating organic, you can greatly reduce your exposure.
The Environmental Network test fruit and vegetables and produce two lists each year: The Dirty Dozen (the most contaminated) and the Clean Fifteen (the least contaminated).
Cruciferous vegetables help your liver metabolize oestrogen in an efficient and healthy way. Cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage and bok choy are all cruciferous vegetables.
Fat and cholesterol are the building blocks of hormones. You need enough cholesterol to make sex hormones such as oestrogen and testosterone. Choose fats high in omega-3, limit saturated fats and eliminate trans fats. Salmon, walnuts, flaxseed, olive oil, avocados and chia seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids.
Salmon is high in vitamin D, which helps regulate female testosterone levels. The good fats in fish improve overall hormonal communication. The endocrine system uses hormones to communicate with the brain, which in turn boosts your mood and improves cognitive skills.
Avocados can positively affect blood cholesterol levels and help balance cortisol. They also influence oestrogen and progesterone, the two hormones responsible for regulating ovulation and menstrual cycles.
Fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help clear excess hormones from the body. Including some starch at dinner may help to regulate the hormones melatonin and cortisol too.
Prebiotics and probiotics
Probiotics are the good bacteria that live in the gut; prebiotics are foods the good bacteria eat to flourish. Eat prebiotic foods such as garlic, oats, asparagus, dandelion, almonds, apples, bananas, Jerusalem artichokes and leeks. Incorporate probiotics such as fermented foods, kimchi and yoghurt.
The worst foods for hormone balance
Eat less processed foods, fried foods, sugar and artificial sweeteners and drink less alcohol to avoid hormone imbalances. Artificial sweeteners may alter our gut bacteria, which may impact the balance of hunger and satiety.
Alcohol interferes with many hormonal processes, from blood sugar control to oestrogen metabolism. It is also associated with an increased risk for breast cancer, as well as other cancers.
Stress, sleep and exercise
As well as eating a healthy diet, you need to get adequate sleep, keep stress levels low and exercise regularly for hormone balance.
Chronic stress leads to elevated levels of cortisol, which suppresses the digestive and immune systems and can cause high blood pressure. Cortisol also leads to carb cravings. Exercise, meditation, sleep and dark chocolate boost levels of norepinephrine and serotonin. Norepinephrine boosts energy, and serotonin is the “feel good” hormone.
The bottom line
Hormones impact growth and development, metabolism, digestion, fertility, stress, mood, energy, appetite, weight and more. Eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and protein keeps hormones balanced. Not eating enough total calories, healthy fats or fibre can disrupt hormones and may lead to conditions like obesity, diabetes, infertility and cancer. Lack of sleep, stress, alcohol and processed foods can also throw off hormones directly or indirectly by influencing the gut microbiome, which keeps hormones balanced.